TWC and Comcast–Sprint’s latest suitors

If Sprint were a celebrity it would be a regular feature on Entertainment Tonight: the ruffled carrier in and out of rehab that is constantly seen gallivanting with the industry’s biggest stars. First it was Verizon, then it was T-Mobile, and the constant rumors of an Intel tie-up with Clearwire and Sprint never seem to go away. The Wall Street Journal now has Time Warner Cable and Comcast pegged as Sprint’s latest partners, and this time it might be right.

Here’s the rub: Comcast would offer up $1 billion, TWC another $500 million, and Brighthouse Networks would chip in $100 million to $200 million. After failing to combine last year, Clearwire and Sprint would merge their WiMAX networks and leave the door open for Intel and even Google to bring their dollars to the table. The result: a nationwide WiMAX broadband network flush with cash that would undoubtedly be used to extend the cable operators’ coax broadband pipes to the airwaves.

The Journal article smacks of the type of plant story used to test Wall Street’s mood about a particular deal. The Journal named the usual unnamed sources close to the negotiations. But other news outlets didn’t just pick up the story, they dug up their own mystery sources (The Financial Times and The Washington Post to name two). Aside from the media barrage, there were a few other telltale signs. On Tuesday, Forbes reported Clearwire adopted a “change in control severance plan” that would entitle its employees to payouts and benefits if they loss their jobs if the company was purchased.

It’s probably no coincidence that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse will not only take the stage on Tuesday at CTIA Wireless, but also has a massive media event planned at the show right afterwards. Is a deal finally being brokered? Will this grand WiMAX experiment finally take off? We’ll find out on Tuesday.

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